A Break for Crap

Trying to prove that we didn’t actually need to sully a holiday with this month’s Crapfest was perhaps ill-considered. The Sunday before Memorial Day weekend, but not the holiday weekend itself? Well, perhaps it was best to not to mess with anyone’s plans for a three-day weekend. I did not necessarily feel that way Monday morning, though, when I appeared to be suffering from a lack of sleep and some sort of snack hangover.

But I really need my bimonthly Crapfest. Need it badly. Especially this month, consumed by the end of the school year and the Roger Ebert Great Movies Challenge. Like finding that incredibly rare rude Disneyworld employee, Crapfest was a welcome oasis amongst all that oppressive quality.

When I arrived, host Dave was running Varan the Unbelievable off his hard drive, because he’s a tech-head who does things like that. (I may work in video, but that doesn’t mean I like to run cable through walls. Dave does, and my hat is off to him for doing it well) As more people arrived, the conversation grew lively, and Dave’s media player dutifully moved on to the next digital file, the original Earth vs The Spider. How lively was the conversation? It was twenty minutes before we realized the soundtrack was in Spanish. Aieee! Aranya grosso no bueno!

starcrash_poster_01This was taken as a clue that we should start the festivities, and for some reason it usually falls to me to choose the first movie. Maybe it is because I generally try to be a nice guy and come up with something at least entertaining (Things was an exception). Maybe because Dave feels that, therefore, his choice in the second slot will seem even more horrible by comparison. Or it will give him a chance to determine how badly he needs to hurt me in return.

But I had discovered a couple of fests ago, that one of our newbs, Erik, was fairly knowledgeable in the ways of le cinema bad, yet had never seen Starcrash. Neither had the other FNG, Mark. This is what we refer to in the trade as a moral imperative, and so we old-timers settled in for a re-watch.

I feel I have to explain Starcrash, even though, if you are reading this blog, chances are it’s unnecessary. Starcrash is an Italian attempt to capitalize on the success of Star Wars, at a time when Star Wars had not yet opened in Europe. So all Luigi Cozzi had to go on was photos, possibly some imported trailers. It’s pretty obvious that lacking the thing he was imitating, he had to fall back on Euro science fiction movies like Barbarella, Antonio Margheriti’s Gamma I flicks, and, for some reason, Jason and the Argonauts. The cast is Caroline Munro, Marjoe Gortner, Joe Spinell, David Hasselhoff and Christopher Plummer. And a police robot who talks like a Southern sheriff. If you have not yet seen it, all this should have convinced you to rush right out and find it now.

Erik was gobsmacked. “This is horrible,” he said, amazed. I think he may be a bit unaware of the depths we regularlysubject ourselves to at Crapfest – one day he will realize what a sweet, sweet gift we gave to him that day.

ultraman120607um5It was time to cook up dinner, and I filled the time with a couple of episodes of Ultraman (this would be the 1966 series). I showed the episode with the pearl-eating monster because A) Science Patrol token girl Akiko is really upset that the monster is eating all those lovely pearls; B) Science Patrol gets rid of the monster by literally shoving a rocket up its ass and blasting it into space; C) meaning Ultraman is unneeded, but he shows up anyway. We needed a second episode, and chose “The Rambunctious One from Space” at random, hoping it would be some manner of space biker, not realizing that such weirdness wouldn’t be showing up until the sentai shows started rolling out in the late 70s. No, it’s just another giant monster, or what they refer to in Japan as “Tuesday”.

Dave had been inferring for some time that I wasn’t drunk enough to watch his selection yet. Not that this was ominous, or anything.

Well, yes, yes it was. Because he had decided to show Nukie.

nukie-movie-poster-1988-1020693623Nukie is an E.T. rip-off made 6 or 7 years after the fact and (deservedly) more obscure than Mac and Me. Apparently of South African origin (with lots of German names, to boot), it didn’t even hit VHS in the US until 1993. I remained blissfully unaware of it until  Stomp Tokyo’s 2000 review, and I spent the intervening years not exactly avoiding it, but not seeking it out either. I’m sure that in my inevitable war crimes trial, the day I spent helping the visiting Chris Holland paw through boxes of VHS tapes at my then-favorite used movie store for copies of Nukie that he could inflict on innocent people will be entered in evidence.

So. There is a sort of cartoon comet zooming all over Earth while we hear the voices of two aliens, Nukie and Neeko, argue about how they shouldn’t be doing this. Something goes wrong and Nukie crash lands in Africa, while Neeko touches down in America, where he is promptly captured by the Space Foundation and routinely tortured by scientists. Nukie befriends a couple of outcast native children, and in general tries to find out where this “America” person who is holding Neeko can be found – by asking animals.

Nukie and Neeko have a psychic link, which means that whenever Nukie is finally about to get to sleep, Neeko will get poked and start screaming “NUUUUUUKIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” in his head, and that also we in the audience will likewise scream “NUUUUUUKIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” when bored, which was often. Before they can take off to space again, they have to be together, you see. Never mind that we see Nukie turn into a cartoon comet and loop around the Moon once.

936full-nukie-photoThen, in the village where all sorts of skullduggery is afoot, none of it particularly coherent, a chimpanzee wearing a shirt starts talking. This is enough to make us stop screaming “NUUUUUUKIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!” and discuss whether the humans onscreen could hear the chimp or not; in the following scene, Nukie is talking to other primates (the aliens can speak any language once they hear enough of it), but the whole subject of talking monkeys was introduced before this sequence… Then Neeko helps the Space Foundation computer achieve sentience. Well, it actually already sentient, since it can hypnotize aliens and humans – somehow – and laugh like a mad scientist. Neeko just helps it become a better person.

Your star power in Nukie is limited to Glynis Johns as a nun in the Village of Problems (looks like things went to hell for the Banks family after Mary Poppins left, if Mrs. Banks joined a nunnery and is working in Africa), and Steve Railsback as the least effective field agent for a Space Foundation ever – although it has to be admitted that he flies Neeko to Nukie in his helicopter – apparently overnight, from America to Africa! – so the two can get the hell off this mudball and we can put this whole dismal exercise behind us.

The best part of the whole ordeal was Rick fervently making his case that if Dave had chosen Nukie, he had no moral high ground to claim in his steadfast resistance to Rick’s dream entry, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. I think he may have had a point, there.

No, wait – the best part was where Dave, as we entered the subjective fifth hour of Nukie, began to moan in his chair, “What have I done?” like Col. Nicholson in Bridge on the River Crap.

candy-stripe-nursesHigh ground or no, Dave put on The Yesterday Machine to “give people a chance to go to the bathroom”. Fifteen minutes later, no one had gone to the bathroom and the damned thing was still playing. Unwilling to sit through a 35-minute explanation of how time travel works again, I held a straw poll of the contents of my Crapfest Bag of Tricks and the clear winner was a return to the original fare of the first Crapfests, a New World drive-in programmer by the name of Candy Stripe Nurses.

There are three stories at play in Candy Stripe Nurses as our nubile young not-really nurses try to change the world via nude scenes. More than ever, you can sense Roger Corman with one of those accountant visors and a stop watch nudging the director and murmuring, “I can’t help but notice there hasn’t been any nudity for 7 minutes.” Not fooling – in one of those instances, where there was no way to stop the plot for naked flesh, it was provided by streakers at a basketball game. Not as ideally salacious as you’d want, a bit heavy on the socially-conscious story elements… but at least it wasn’t Nukie. And as is the case with these movies, when you’re not waiting for the next nude scene, you’re waiting to see where Dick Miller will crop up.

Let’s take a moment to thank Joe Dante for cutting together this completely NSFW trailer:

(By the way, whichever of you guys tried to correct me on the director of Candy Stripe Nurses – you were right, it was Allan Holeb. I just got hung up on seeing Barbara Peeters’ name as Second Unit Director. I was wrong.)

Exorcist_II_Heretic_02There was some sort of problem with Erik’s portable hard drive, so while Dave took it to the back room to diagnose, he ominously said to me, “Figure out what’s next.” I didn’t do the straw poll again. I simply opened the vintage Warner Brothers snapper case and inserted Exorcist II: The Heretic. Enough of this weak-ass stuff. People had been demanding The Heretic for some time.

Mark was a bit apprehensive, unsure if this was truly riff material. Pshaw, said I, and ho boy, was I right. I’m pretty sure there was some exposition going on, but it was drowned out by multiple, simultaneous bad Richard Burton impersonations, which continued for the next two hours. Drunk jokes were the standard fare, but I was astounded and delighted by the variation and lack of repetition. I am especially fond of the section where we switched to using booze as a motivator. “Okay, Mr. Burton, for this scene we’ve put a bottle of scotch on top of this mountain, and… OH GOD ROLL THE CAMERAS! ROLL THEM NOW!!!”

In case you’ve never had the pleasure: Burton is Father Lamont, another exorcist who is having a crisis of faith, yet is sent by the Church to investigate the death of Father Merrin in the first movie. He meets up with the now teenaged Regan, and things sort of fall apart from there. The original audience started laughing the movie out of the theaters with the first sequence involving The Synchronizer, a device that “syncs people up” using biofeedback, a strobe light, and a deep pulsing note.  It allows people to share a hypnotic trance and experience each other’s dreams, or something. That sequence is actually pretty effective, if you can get past the dubious science.

Anyway, the best part, past the Richard Burton jokes, is the Ennio Morricone score, which I still have on the original vinyl. Enjoy Ennio rocking out on the trailer:

Actually, the best part was realizing that I was watching the original ending on this disc; Warner tried several different endings to deflect audience derision when the movie opened, and when I saw it, it was the ending where Burton died battling the demon Pazuzu. Offscreen, of course, no need to actually bring him back to shoot new footage. It was shoddy work, and though the original ending is rather ridiculous, it is obviously part of the same movie I just spent two hours scratching my head through.

By then it was midnight, and we had jobs to get to in the morning. We woke Alan up and sent him home. (“Why couldn’t I have nodded off during Nukie? Why?!?”) We also swore undying vengeance against Dave. Which will make the next Crapfest all the more… interesting.

Here’s my Letterboxd profile just prior to this Crapfest:

Freeman Williams ’s profile • Letterboxd


And here it is after, Can you spot the difference?:

Freeman Williams ’s profile • Letterboxd (1)


Never mind, it’s back to this, now:

Freeman Williams ’s profile • Letterboxd (2)

Movie Ketchup

It seems to be a corollary of my life that every time I manage to get a long weekend, the week after is going to start at an accelerated rate and just continue to speed up from there.  How I managed to get last week’s entry on the Good Friday Crapfest is beyond me, but it got done.  In this welter of work, the Stanley Kubrick Project may have gone by the wayside, but I did manage to watch five movies, none of which I wrote about here.

I’ll try to not be too wordy.

First off was The Stabilizer, a 1986 Indonesian action flick that pairs boundless enthusiasm with limited skill. New Zealand English teacher-turned-action-star Peter O’Brian, plays Peter Goldson, The Stabilizer. On loan from the FBI, Goldson is that special breed of person who will stabilize the balance between good and evil. He does this by punching and shooting bad guys and driving various vehicles through walls. He’s there to get Greg Rainmaker, international scum, who raped and killed Goldson’s girlfriend by stomping on her with his oversized golf shoes.

If there is one thing The Stabilizer is, it’s action packed, and some of that action is pretty okay.  Slow spots are minimized, and you know you’re never more than a few minutes away from another sloppy fight or heavy machinery crashing through a wall. This is accompanied by near-constant unintentional laughs, making this the perfect Crapfest movie. Unfortunately, they won’t let me show it, no matter how many times I point to the box that says, “The Drunken Master’s Grand Theft Auto!” I’m sure Lloyd Kaufmann took the day off after writing that blurb, it’s so perfect.

Yes, Troma distributed the disc here in America, and a gesund on them for doing it. That’s the main reason I’m not allowed to show it, though. There’s an odd, unofficial No Troma rule, apparently, which extends even to stuff they didn’t make, so I might as well not even bring up movies like Sugar Cookies or even a movie Rick has been agitating for, Mad Dog Morgan.  Ah well:

This was watched for a Daily Grindhouse podcast, still being edited as I write this. My major contribution was confusing Judd Omen with Jon Cypher, as I mentioned his character at the end of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, in the prison bus, shouting, “Great movie Pee-Wee! Action-packed!

Which is really all I can say about The Stabilizer.

Late one night I watched American Grindhouse on Netflix Instant. It purports to be a history of the American Exploitation Movie, narrated by Robert Forster. It starts out very strongly, with clips from silent movies that I had no idea had survived, moving through the talkies up until the last decade (it’s a 2010 movie). Sadly it starts getting sketchy in the 70s, as subgenres start proliferating, and a lot seems glossed over. But it’s never boring, and a good primer for the uninitiated; those of us swimming through this stuff all our lives aren’t going to find much new.

Fittingly, the trailer will suck you right in:

Watching Spartacus had left me wanting more Hollywood epics, if only for comparison’s sake, so it was lucky for me that Daily Grindhouse asked me to review one of the new Twilight Time Blu-Rays, Demetrius and the Gladiators. But that meant I needed to watch The Robe first, as one is the sequel to the other.

For all you heathen dogs: The Robe is the tale of the Roman who won Christ’s clothes in a gambling match held at the foot of the cross. That guy is Marcellus Gallio, a debauched Tribune, played by Richard Burton. Travelling with him in his political exile in Jerusalem is his slave, Demetrius, played by Victor Mature. Demetrius becomes a devout Christian and runs off with The Robe while Marcellus is consumed by guilt over what he’s done. The Roman eventually tracks down the wily Greek, only to find himself converted to Christianity, and eventually martyred for his belief by Caligula, Emperor of Overactors, though that means it’s kind of a crock that there is no Saint Marcellus.

The Robe doesn’t feature a whole lot of budget-gobbling crowd scenes, so a lot of the time it feels like the expanded frame of this new-fangled CinemaScope is going unused, though there are great, painterly moments – the scenes on Golgotha, for instance. There are a couple of action scenes, quoted in that trailer, but they are far outnumbered in screen time by proselytizing. There is definitely more reverence on display than rambunctiousness.

Richard Burton’s taciturn portrayal of Marcellus doesn’t truly sell the character’s conversion (frankly, the script doesn’t do him any favors in this regard), and he’s rather overshadowed by Victor Mature. Michael Rennie is marvelous as Peter, and Jay Robinson’s time as Caligula is thankfully short. Jean Simmons is Jean Simmons. In all, I guess it was a pretty good Easter movie.

And then the Extremely Busy Week started. I survived it somehow. In celebration of that fact, I treated myself to lunch at the Star Cinema Grill and The Cabin in The Woods. I had the theater to myself.

I am going to scrupulously avoid saying anything about this movie except that I loved it. You know how tween girls were about Titanic? That’s me with The Cabin The Woods.

I now see that Lionsgate has scrupulously disabled embedding on all of the YouTube trailers for Cabin. Thanks a lot, guys, I’m not really sure what that accomplishes.

It’s amazing how little that trailer gives away. The Cabin in The Woods has the best blend of horror and comedy that I have seen in ages – since, ironically enough, Evil Dead II – and every serious horror fan who hasn’t seen it already, should see it now.

Yes, I’m aware that there are also people who say it’s stupid and it’s over-hyped and they want that hour and a half of their lives back. These people are big dummy stupidpants.

So then I got to watch Demetrius & the Gladiators, which I found to be one of the few sequels that was better than its predecessor. Better compositions, better balance between sermonizing and sword-slinging, it’s like a mirror image of The Robe. Demetrius’ fall from faith is a lot better handled than Marcellus’ conversion, and you’ve got actors like Ernest Borgnine and William Marshall shoring things up. Susan Hayward deserved a better script, and… oh boy, Jay Robinson gets more screentime.

While I was writing this, I see the review went live, allowing me to see every single mistake I made. Oh, well. Such is life on the Internets.

To top all this off, I finished my story for this week early, and now I’m wrapping this up. So I think it’s time to finally treat myself to The Raid: Redemption. Hi-keeba!